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Study: Calorie menus in restaurants are inaccurate

by nickj on July 20, 2011

A new study conducted at dozens of restaurants discovered that the calorie menus that some Americans use as a of making healthier dietary choices may not be telling the whole truth about certain dishes, according to Time magazine

Susan Roberts, the director of the Energy Metabolism Laboratory, explained that many calorie counts are accurate. However, the real issue arises when consumers are trying to make the healthier choices. Options that boast low calorie counts are – on average – 100 more calories than advertised. No single dish is ever really the same, so every rating is an approximation.

"We found huge discrepancies," Roberts said, according to the publication. "Our statistician gave me this analogy: let's say you sell 10-pound bags of sugar, and you sell 15-pound bags to your friends and 5-pound bags to your enemies, and you call them all 10 pounds. The average would be accurate but it wouldn't be fair to individual buyers. We found that's what may be happening in restaurants. Overall, the main calories on the plate were not very different from what was listed on websites. But low calorie foods that are appropriate for weight control have more calories than listed, and high calorie foods have less calories than listed."

So is this a big deal? Essentially, 100 surprise calories in a salad or similarly "healthy" item can contribute to an additional 15 pounds of weight gain each year.

In total, Roberts and her colleagues evaluated the menus at 42 different restaurants, including McDonald's, Olive Garden, Outback and Boston Market, at Boston, Indianapolis and Little Rock. They froze meals and sent them back to the lab for testing.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the study also found that only 7 percent of the 269 food items tested were within 10 calories of the menu's claim. 

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